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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Westchester town supervisor has a better idea on curbing political gifts from contractors

Members of the public listen as Kevan Abrahams,

Members of the public listen as Kevan Abrahams, minority leader of the Nassau County Legislature, and his Democratic colleagues address issues with the contract procurement process at a public hearing in Mineola on Friday Oct. 16, 2015. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau Democrats held a hearing on the county's flawed contracting process Friday -- except that it ended up being more of a standing-room-only gathering mostly for Democrats in Mineola.

A formal legislative hearing, which minority Democrats said majority Republicans would not allow, would have afforded lawmakers significant options. Such as swearing in witnesses, having a transcriber, and pulling the public in by having the proceedings streamed live, via the Internet.

Lawmakers could have grilled administration officials to get a firsthand view of processes lax enough to habitually funnel taxpayer-funded consulting and other lucrative contracts to politically connected firms.

Or they could have called in experts, such as Paul Feiner, supervisor of the Town of Greenburgh in Westchester County. Feiner -- spurred by Nassau's contract troubles -- last week launched a personal crusade to sever the tangled link between political contributions and public contracts.

But no.

Instead, Nassau lawmakers, weeks before every seat in the chamber comes up for grabs on Election Day, spent Friday taking potshots at each other. As Democrats heard from speakers during their one-party hearing, one Republican complained that they should be investigated for politicking on the public dime.

An allegation that's chuckle-worthy given the number of publicly financed mailings from all sides that read like political ads.

More gamesmanship. More politicking. And all of it an unnecessary diversion from reforming a contracting system that Democrat Madeline Singas, Nassau's acting district attorney and a candidate for district attorney against Republican Kate Murray, the Hempstead Town supervisor, has labeled a "recipe for corruption."

Contrast that now with Greenburgh's Feiner.

Spurred by mere mention in a report to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano of Greenburgh's ban on political contributions to incumbents by contractors, Feiner last week wrote a series of letters to other municipalities suggesting they follow Nassau's lead in considering a ban.

Feiner wrote a note to Frank Zarb, head of the independent committee that Mangano appointed to examine Nassau's contracting process, seeking a copy of the panel's recommendations.

He also fired off a letter to the county executive and county lawmakers in Westchester, which reads, in part: "If Nassau County adopts an anti-pay-to-play law, it might generate momentum that could result in other counties and localities . . . [following] their lead."

Feiner's also seeking support from Common Cause, a nonprofit activist group in Washington, D.C. He also would like to see New York City -- which has a less stringent law than Greenburgh's -- beef up its statute.

"Politicians don't like me," Feiner, 59, said in an interview Friday, acknowledging that his task will be difficult.

He said Greenburgh's tough ethics law -- which bars incumbents from accepting campaign contributions from developers, contractors, lawyers and agents -- made him a better public official by removing even an unconscious thought of awarding work to contributors.

"I had always thought I was honest before the law," said Feiner, a Democrat who has held office for more than two decades, "but probably not as much as I am now."

Mangano on Friday said he is working to implement two of the Zarb panel's three recommendations by moving to hire an auditor for the county's department of investigation, along with a certified procurement compliance director.

But Nassau's been looking more to emulate New York City's law, and explore public campaign financing, although Mangano said he was open to considering other options. In New York, contractors are allowed to contribute to politicians, in significantly limited amounts.

As for Feiner, he received a note back from Zarb. Aside from that, however, "I've not heard from anyone in Nassau."

Somebody, call him.



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